Over the past three decades attitudes in the Middle East towards violence against women have been changing. However, there is still a long way to go. Not only is there a severe lack of adequate legislation in this area but society still shows little understanding towards the women affected. This is a view shared by the women running women’s shelters across the Arab region.
In September 2009, 12 women who daily work in shelters across the Middle East were invited to Denmark by KVINFO to participate in a training and education workshop together with Dannerhuset.
 
“In the 70s, talking about violence or changing Moroccan family law was completely taboo. But today we’ve succeeded in bringing both topics onto the agenda and in changing attitudes out in society”, explains Fatima Outaleb, manager of a women’s centre in the Moroccan capital Rabat.
 

The Moudawana

The Moudawana is the Moroccan family law introduced in 2004, based upon and legitimatised in the Islamic Sharia school of law. The law has been applauded for promoting women’s rights, but at the same time critical voices have also pointed out that the law has also led to an increase in the King’s influence within the country.  
 

 

This is an issue the other workshop participants all agree upon. All point out that the topic is still taboo in several countries and that open discussion of the issue in the media is still non-existent.
 
They also point out that across the region there are differences in how countries have reacted to the problem, with some countries way ahead of others. In Morocco, progress regarding family laws has been significant – and even in a country such as Yemen, three women’s shelters have been established.
 

Danish-Arab Partnership Programme

KVINFO's programme in the Middle East and North Africa is financed by:

 

“Being a victim of violence in Yemen is an extremely taboo subject – there’s a great need for both information and a change in public attitudes. Because the issue is so sensitive, there’ll always be a limit to the number of women who seek refuge in the shelters. Also, it will take some time for the existence of shelters to become widely known. Nevertheless, we’re in no doubt that there is a real need for shelter places”, explains Salma Ahmed Dhaif Allah who is involved with opening the third shelter in this very conservative country at the foot of the Arabian Peninsula.
 
Several participants in the workshop tell of the lack of legal protection and scant understanding from the authorities. As a direct consequence, the theme of communication with other individuals and organisations in the local community has also come under focus during the workshop. Participants have discussed the best way to profile their centres in the media and how to attract positive attention from not only politicians but also from society at large.